Transforming your house into a home is about “not following trends” and “having the guts to trust yourself about making decisions”.
This is the advice from flamboyant television presenter and designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who was in Belfast to launch House of the Year 2024, which will be broadcast on BBC NI in the autumn.
Having previously fronted the show in 2012, he is excited by its revival.
“In the early days we were seduced by big architecturally designed houses. What we want now is homes that are real and homes where people have poured their heart and soul into,” he tells me.
“What we’re looking for is spaces that reflect a personal style or vision, whether that is a terrace, apartment, cottage or caravan.”
No stranger to the north, from launching his wallpaper collection here in the 90s to filming Changing Rooms, he praises homeowners here for their individuality.
“I love the fact that people here have always been a lot more ballsy and are less trend obsessed,” says the 58-year-old.
Laurence will be joined by a panel of three, as yet unannounced judges.
“I’m there to flirt a bit of fact out of the homeowners, to tell us why they’ve chosen a particular object or colour.
“It’s about people showing us their personality through the way that they decorate their space.
“We’re not judging taste, we’re judging whether the mechanics of a style actually work and whether they have taken that aesthetic far enough or too far.”
He’s also hopeful of uncovering some Irish craft traditions incorporated into people’s homes, such as linen, weaving, ceramics and metalwork.
Laurence believes lockdown and the internet have played a positive role in giving homeowners the nudge to transform their living spaces.
“Before lockdown people were distracted with work and leisure and just came home to feed the cat and sleep. Spending prolonged time in their homes made them want a living place that reflects their personality.
“Now people are sharing their homes, through the likes of Instagram, in a way that they’ve never done before.
“Options are endless. You no longer need to get involved in a preordained, pre-curated retail environment. You can Google and find unique items and ideas for yourself.”
Laurence, wearing a trademark colourful plush suit when we meet, has coined the term ‘maximalism’ to describe his design style – the polar opposite of his minimalist neighbour Simon Cowell.
Whilst Laurence has publicly offered his design services to the Britain’s Got Talent judge, he says Cowell is “avoiding him”.
“That could be to do with the fact I describe the worst type of white as that of the colour of his teeth,” he laughs.
“These enormous rooms he’s got, which are all painted white with great big windows and no curtains, are a conspicuous consumption of space and energy resources. That isn’t what life is about.”
He argues the use of rugs, curtains and soft furnishings can immediately bring warmth into your home and save heating costs.
While not everyone can afford renewable energy eco-homes, Laurence believes there is “no excuse” for people not being able to transform their homes environmentally and on a budget.
“When we started doing Changing Rooms, interior design was very posh and expensive. Now you have really nice stuff in supermarkets, online auctions and charity shops. The most difficult thing is working out what you want, not trying to get what you feel you need.
“I can’t understand why people pay £400 for a flatpack wardrobe made from disposable chipboard, in a certain nameless Scandinavian shop, that within a few years will be landfill.
“At an antique auction for the same money you would get something that has been beautifully handcrafted and that’s got such a dense history and worth to it.”
Laurence shares his Cotswold manor house with wife Jackie, daughters Cecile and Hermione, son-in-laws Dan and Drew and grandchildren Albion, Demelza, Romilly and Eleanora.
“Our homestead now is an unusual space. Some find it strange we live together, and have officially changed the title deed, but actually that’s how life was up until the 20th century.
“There is a world out there where grandparents never see their grandchildren and parents struggle to juggle childcare and careers. We’ve come together to make it work and it’s fantastic,” enthuses LLB, who is known as Gov by his grandkids.
“We have got a big building project at the minute, which is dividing the main house into two. Jackie says we are creating a ‘two up, two down’, our only difference is it has got a ballroom,” he laughs.
The house transformation is being documented for a forthcoming television series, and Laurence currently describes his living area as “the seventh circle of hell”.
“Eating dinner is like a scene from Carry on Up the Khyber, with bits of plaster falling into our soup,” he laughs.
Each family has curated their own style and whilst Hermione has a more contemporary look with “expensive imported denim walls”, Laurence’s includes his trademark patterned wallpapers, upon which the grandchildren have licence to draw over.
A feature in their new bedroom he is proud of is the airplane cockpit style make-up booth for his wife.
“There’s something a little bit RuPaul about it,” he laughs. “But it’s got everything – mirrors, lights, plugs and a fan.”
Fine art is another way of injecting personalities into our homes and the former art graduate recently got his paint brushes out again.
His autumn exhibition, Garden of Baroque Delights, sold out and he has since received a number of commissions.
“I’ve just finished one for a lovely couple who wanted their house to look the best it could, so I got rid of the main road and the traffic signs and put in a couple of trees and a peacock,” he explains.
“The exhibition was about beautiful landscapes, but with a sense of surreal drama, with bits of fabric trailing across the sky and bolting horses. Having basically abandoned painting in my early 20s, I’m loving it.”
Is he aiming for a Turner Prize? “No. I’m sure there are plenty of art critics out there that look at my work and think it’s a bit camp and romantic. I don’t really care. It gives me an enormous amount of pleasure to do my fluffy trees.”
The House of the Year competition is now open and all entries must be received by Monday February 19. BBC One - House of the Year.